Ariell Fernandez, a resident of Ocoee, was born for the dance floor.
“I love it because it makes me feel awesome, and I like watching people get excited for me — how it shows on their face,” Fernandez said.
She started dancing when she had barely learned to walk, and throughout her life, she has progressed in her skill and passion. This year, she was chosen as a member of the Prowlers, who dance at games and promotional events for the Orlando Predators.
As a small child, Fernandez took her first dance lessons at Columbus Dance Centre and Studio K, both in Orlando. Her experience at these and other studios allowed her the opportunity to perform all over Orange County — even once at Walt Disney World.
Fernandez was a member of Ocoee High School’s dance team for three of her years at the school. She skipped one year because during that time, she was dancing at N.Y.C. Dance, an Ocoee studio that offers programs for competitive dancers.
After high school, Fernandez wasn’t sure how she would find a way to continue her career as a dancer. But her boyfriend, JD Ralph, wouldn’t let her give up on her passion.
“He encouraged me and told me when the pre-auditions were for the Predators, and I was like, ‘All right. I’m going to do it,’” Fernandez said.
Pre-auditions, which started in December, helped the dancers get serious about their image and skills before the real auditions. This was when Fernandez met the team’s coach, Nina Oh.
“What’s great about Ariell is that she listens to advice … and takes all her skills to the next level, because she has great listening skills,” Oh said. “Her best qualities are her beautiful smile and a good attitude, and that speaks volumes in the professional dance team world.”
The final auditions were held in February.
“At finals, they called my name, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh; this is not real life right now,’” Fernandez said. “That was a pretty cool feeling. I’ve never had that feeling before.”
Now that she is on the team, Fernandez has to balance a rigorous practice schedule with her other time commitments. There are three-hour practices twice a week. On game nights, there are additional pre-rehearsals at the gym and dress rehearsals at the Amway Center.
The team has to learn new dances for every game, so keeping up with the choreography can be tough. But so far, Fernandez’s performance has been nearly flawless.
“I tell myself I’m not going to mess up before I go out there, even though I feel like I might,” Fernandez said. “And then I go out there and surprisingly, I don’t mess up. It blows my mind.”
Even besides the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people, being a Prowler has its perks. Fernandez gets Predators tickets to share with family and friends, as well as free tanning, manicures and more.
Her haircuts and styling are also free, under one condition: Her locks must remain golden.
A few weeks ago, the dance team started inviting dancers of elementary-school age — Junior Prowlers — to join them on the field.
Some of the Junior Prowlers want to be just like the older dancers. They get excited to show the Prowlers their moves and take photos with them at games.
The Junior Prowlers were at one of the team’s promotional events last week, and they wouldn’t leave Fernandez’s side.
“They were following me around the whole time,” she said.
But she didn’t mind. In fact, she enjoys being a role model for them and for other young dancers in the community.
“I would tell them to keep following their dreams,” she said. “Never give up, even if you feel like you’re not going to get anywhere. Just keep practicing and you’ll get where your heart takes you.”
Contact Catherine Sinclair at [email protected].